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Chapter 8 Section C: Cultural and linguistic diversity and mental health conditions

Sometimes, differences in culture and language can create difficulties in getting appropriate mental health care, support and services. In NSW, there are a number of policies and programs in place that attempt to overcome these kinds of barriers. There are also a number of services available to assist people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to access the mental health care and support they need.

The purpose of this section is to give you information about those policies, programs and services in NSW.

In NSW, there are also specific health policies and programs to deal with the needs of asylum seekers and refugees; information about these policies and programs is also provided in this section .

In this section of the Manual you will find information about:

The Mental Health Association of NSW has a number of fact sheets on mental health care information, translated into several languages that you might also find useful, click here to read the fact sheet.

The Australian Government also has a website to support new arrivals. This includes information for new arrivals to Australia who may require support related to mental health conditions.

8C.1: The National Standards for Mental Health Services and social and cultural diversity

Standard 4 in the National Standards for Mental Health Services (2010) deals with diversity responsiveness in the mental health sector, including in relation to persons from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It outlines the standards that mental health services should meet in order to ensure their services take into account the cultural and social diversity of the clients and meet their needs, and those of their carers and the community, throughout all phases of care.

To read Standard 4 of the National Standards for Mental Health Services, follow this link.

8C.2: Multicultural Mental Health Policy in NSW

The NSW Health Multicultural Mental Health Plan 2008–2012, remains in force. It sets out the directions and principles for how mental health services in NSW should develop and operate to better meet the needs of people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities.

The NSW Government’s key priorities include:

  • an emphasis on education, prevention and early intervention
  • delivering culturally inclusive and responsive mental health services
  • enhancing cultural competencies in mental health service delivery

The Plan recognises the rights of CALD communities to participate in service planning, decision-making, delivery and evaluation. The Plan also recognises that members of CALD communities have very distinct experiences and therefore distinct mental health needs, and that these experiences and their related needs should be taken into account by the mental health sector.

The Plan focuses on the needs of:

  • people from CALD communities who are at risk of developing mental health problems
  • people from CALD communities who experience mental health problems
  • families and carers of people in CALD communities with mental health problems
  • services that provide mental health services to members of CALD communities.

Click here for the link to the Multicultural Mental Health Plan 2008–2012.


8C.3.1: Diversity Health Clearinghouse (DHC)

You can search for services, resources, research and projects ,training, and events by selecting them from the navigation panel, or you can search the whole site with the search bar above. You can also use our browse topics to explore the Clearinghouse.

To go to the DHC website click here.

NSW Health also has a range of State-wide specialised mental health clinical assessment and services for people from CALD communities. These services are listed below, click on the service name to go to the website:

  • Transcultural Mental Health Centre – provides a range of information and services for people with mental illness from CALD backgrounds, their carers and communities
  • Co-exist (Multicultural State wide Comorbidity Referral Program) – is a program for people from CALD backgrounds who are living with two or more mental health conditions, or a mental health condition and co-existing substance abuse or problem gambling problem.
  • Multi-cultural Problem Gambling Service for NSW – helps problem gamblers from CALD communities living in NSW and their families by providing quality and accessible counselling, treatment and support services.

The Diversity Health Clearinghouse website also has a range of resources in community languages. In particular, the website has practical guides for maintaining good mental health for individuals and families.

For more information about Diversity Health Clearinghouse and to access the online resources, click here.

8C.3.2: Mental Health in Multicultural Australia

The Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHiMA) project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, to provide a national focus for advice and support to providers and governments on mental health and suicide prevention for people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

To find out more about Multicultural Mental Health Australia, click here to go to the MMHA website.

8C.4: Asylum seekers and refugees and the health system

Asylum seekers are people in Australia who have applied to the Australian Government for recognition as a refugee and are waiting for a decision.

The application to become a refugee is tested against the criteria set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Asylum seekers become refugees if their applications are approved.

The assessment process may take several years, and during this waiting period, the Australian Government may give some help to the asylum seeker, such as giving them the right to work in Australia and a Medicare Card. Most refugees should be given a Medicare Card, which means that if you are a refugee, you should have access to basic health services available to Australian citizens.

If you are an asylum seeker or refugee and you have been given a Medicare Card, then you should read the section on Medicare in this Manual for information about your rights to get health services .

If you are a refugee and need help to get health or medical care, you can contact the NSW Refugee Health Service. The service is operated by NSW Health. It runs a clinic one day a week at a number of places in NSW, and it provides health services and referrals for refugees. You need to make an appointment, and you should let them know when you make the appointment if you need to have an interpreter. To make an appointment, phone: 02 8778 0770 (Monday to Friday) or click here to go to the NSW Refugee Health Service website for more information.

There are ways to get health or medical care services if you are an asylum seeker in NSW and are not eligible for Medicare:

There are also organisations that provide specialist services and support to asylum seekers and refugees. To find out more, click here.

8C.4.1: Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme (ASAS)

Some asylum seekers who are not eligible for Medicare may be able to get help under the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme (ASAS). This is an Australian Government scheme run by the Australian Red Cross. It mainly helps pay for the living and housing costs of the eligible people, but can sometimes also pay health care costs.

If you can get help from ASAS and you need to go to a public health service, including a mental health service, then you should ask the Australian Red Cross to give you a letter with the following details in it:

  • it should be addressed to the particular health service you need to go to;
  • it should identify you, the patient;
  • it should also identify the medical condition for which you need treatment.

Services that are not listed in the letter will not be provided unless Australian Red Cross has approved them.

The bill for the health care services will be sent to Australian Red Cross and you will not need to pay.

If you need medical help in an emergency, and you don’t have a letter from Australian Red Cross, you should let the medical staff at the service that you are eligible for ASAS, so that they can contact Australian Red Cross for you. They can’t refuse you emergency medical care.

You can find out more about ASAS from Australian Red Cross’s website by clicking here.

If you want to access ASAS, you need to contact the Migration Support Program of the Australian Red Cross.

Phone: (02) 9229 4266
Street address: 159 Clarence Street

For ASAS contacts in other states and territories, click here.

8C.4.2: NSW Health: health services fee waiver

If you are an asylum seeker and you are not eligible for Medicare or the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme, NSW Health has a policy that means you can get certain health services for free.

This policy applies to the following services:

  • emergency care for acute medical and surgical conditions
  • elective surgery for some conditions
  • outpatient care and ambulatory care for people with acute or chronic health conditions
  • maternity services
  • mental health services, including inpatient and community-based services
  • emergency and some urgent dental care

If you think you are eligible, you should tell the hospital or medical staff before you get the medical service. You can ask for a letter that details your status from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship or from a support group such as Australian Red Cross or the Asylum Seekers Centre, if you don’t have other documents. Otherwise you may get a bill for the cost of your treatment and hospitalisation. If you do get a bill, and you think you are entitled to the fee waiver, you should immediately give proof of your status to the hospital or medical service provider.

8C.4.3: Services for Asylum Seekers in NSW

There are two other services that focus on health care for asylum seekers and refugees in NSW:

The Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW – offers a range of health care programs including on-site health care and referrals to free health and mental health services. The Centre also gives other non-health related support to asylum seekers.

For more information on what the Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW can do for you, click here to go to the Asylum Seekers Centre website.

You can also call Asylum Seekers Centre of NSW to make an appointment to see a caseworker at the Centre.

Phone: 02 9078 1900

The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) – helps refugees and asylum-seekers living in NSW to recover from their experience and to settle in Australia. It provides mental health services, personal support programs and training.

For more information about STARTTS, click here to go to the STARTTS website.

To make an appointment:

Phone: (02) 9794 1900

8C.5: Interpreting and translation services

When you are getting health services, including mental health services, you have a right to have the services and its information given to you in a way that you can understand. This means that if you cannot understand English very well, then you have a right to have an interpreter so that the information is given to you in a language you can understand. If the service does not have a staff member who is fluent in your language, then the service should do their best to help you get an interpreting and translation service at no cost to you.

There are two main interpreting and translation services available in NSW:

The Language Services Division of the Community Relations Commission – provides on-site, face-to-face interpreting. You must make a booking to get an interpreter and can do this by telephone or by e-mail.

Phone: 1300 651 500* and e-mail:

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) is a national service provided by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. TIS provides a telephone interpreting service.

You can get an interpreter over the phone by calling 131 450*.

TIS also provides on-site, face-to-face interpreting, but you must make a booking for this and the booking is usually made by the service you are getting help from. Sometimes, the service is free. For more information about TIS and how to use it, click here to visit the website.

*Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) and to Local call numbers (numbers starting with 13 or 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

Updated January 30, 2015